Autumn, 1784, the Allegheny Mountains of Western Virginia
From Chapter Five
A dark weight from the past overshadowed the present. What did Jack know that he wasn’t saying? The mutterings in the wind were more insistent than ever, summoning Karin, though she didn’t know where.
Oh, let the voices scream away. They told her nothing more than anyone else had.
Knees sore, dispirited, she reached the other side of the room, no further ahead than before. Jack still stood at the wall, running his hands along the logs, probing each chink. “I’ve crawled over every inch,” she said. Straightening wearily, she sank down onto the bedstead. The straw ticking in the thin mattress supported her as she flopped onto her back and stared up at the darkened beams overhead. “The secrets of the past are well guarded.”
“Or hidden beneath you.”
She glanced around. He’d turned toward her, his partly shadowed features seeming perfectly sincere. “How so?”
“Your mother spent her final hours where you lie now.”
“Not if it were hidden below that.”
“A lattice of hemp rope supports the mattress. You think it’s tucked inside?”
Skeptical, she pushed up on her elbows to watch him stride across the room and kneel by the bedstead. She rolled onto her side on the musty blue coverlet as he bent over and looked under the bed. Flattened onto his stomach, he scooted partway beneath the frame.
Curious despite herself, she asked, “See anything?”
“Not yet.” He disappeared further beneath the bed. “Nothing up in the crisscross of hemp.”
As she thought. Her spirits dipped.
“Wait.” A note of excitement rose in his voice. “There’s something in the wall.”
“The light’s poor, but I spy a knothole. I’ll see if it’s loose.” A scrabbling sound ensued, likely him trying to work the knot from the wood. She strained to hear.
“I’ve got it out, but my hand’s too large to reach inside. There’s an opening there, though.” He scooted back out, his hair draped with cobwebs. “Your hand’s smaller. See what you can do.” He brushed at his hair.
Heart in her throat, she slid off the bed and squatted beside him on bruised knees. Bending over, she poked her head under the mattress and stared at the wall. The circular hole was just discernible in the logs, and the knot he’d loosened lay on the floor beside it. With a rush of anticipation and just as much trepidation, she crawled under the bed. Squirming closer, she blew a dusty web from her nose.
How a woman swollen with child had managed this was beyond Karin. Maybe in her determination not to be robbed of the treasure, Mary McNeal had found a way. Hoping not to encounter nesting mice inside, or worse, Karin pushed her hand into the black space. Unbelievably, she closed her fingers around a smooth object, prickly in places, and ice cold.
Gulping, she glanced back at Jack. “I’ve found something.”~
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